Minnesota Twins Hire Wes Johnson Away From The University Of Arkansas
Wes Johnson, who had been a rising star among college pitching coaches, on Thursday reportedly jumped out of the college ranks and into the big leagues. The Minnesota Twins hired Johnson, who spent the last two years as Arkansas pitching coach following stops at Mississippi State and Dallas Baptist, as their pitching coach, as first reported in The Athletic.
While it is relatively common for coaches in other sports to jump directly from the college ranks to the highest professional level, it is almost unheard of in baseball. Since Dick Howser went from coaching Florida State, his alma mater, in 1979 to managing the Yankees in 1980, no coach has made the jump.
Recently, however, the path from college to MLB has seemingly opened a bit. Derek Johnson began his career as a college pitching coach, first at Stetson and then famously at Vanderbilt, before the Cubs in 2012 hired him as pitching coordinator. He later became the Brewers pitching coach, a role he held on this year’s NLCS team before moving to the Reds. Pat Murphy after being fired by Arizona State worked his way up the minors to become a bench coach in the major leagues, first in San Diego and now in Milwaukee. The Mariners this winter spoke with college pitching coaches about their pitching coach job before hiring Paul Davis from the Cardinals organization.
Moving between college baseball and the minor leagues is fairly common and many college coaches have been hired as pitching, hitting or fielding coordinators. Long Beach State’s Troy Buckley and Michigan’s Chris Fetter are among those were hired as coordinators out of the college ranks before returning to college coaching.
Now, however, for the first time in nearly 40 years, Wes Johnson will become the first coach to move directly from a college dugout to an MLB dugout. He does so after helping the Razorbacks to a runner-up finish at this year’s College World Series.
Johnson at Dallas Baptist established himself as one of the top pitching coaches in the country as the Patriots churned out hard-thrower after hard-thrower, from Brandon Koch to Chance Adams to Jake Johansen. In his one season at Mississippi State, the Bulldogs completed a worst-to-first turnaround in the Southeastern Conference. Johnson, an Arkansas native, then returned home the next season and in 2017 helped the Razorbacks rebound from their own nadir and then in 2018 make a run to the CWS finals.
In a statement, Dave Van Horn praised Johnson for his work over the last two years.
“Wes’ energy and tireless work ethic was infectious from our players to our staff," Van Horn said. "I know he had a positive impact on everyone he worked with and every aspect of our program.
Johnson will now try to assist the Twins in a turnaround, as they this year finished a disappointing 78-84 that led to the firing of manager Paul Molitor. The college baseball world will be closely watching how Johnson fares in the big leagues because if he succeeds, other organizations could look to follow the Twins’ example.
One obstacle for college coaches making the leap may be money. The 14 highest paid college head coaches have higher salaries than the lowest paid MLB manager, according to USA Today, and several college coaches would rank in the middle of the pack among MLB managers. The money in college baseball has helped reverse a trend of coaches moving from college to pro ball, and many now jump from coaching or managing in the minor leagues or scouting to the college ranks.
But the allure of coaching at the highest level and chasing a World Series ring is a strong one. And if MLB teams start looking to the college ranks to fill out their coaching staffs, they will find plenty of able candidates like Johnson.